Kevin Aymoz won a beautiful silver medal at Skate America. We met him after the competition.
Solène: What's your assessment of this competition?
Kevin: I am thrilled. The day of the short program was difficult. The training in the morning didn't go well. I felt ready, but I was not landing my jumps. I managed to refocus with the help of my coaches and deliver the performance I wanted. When I was in a situation of failure or success, I used to have extreme reactions. That's less the case now. I am thrilled with this silver medal; it gives me confidence. After the Japan Open, Silvia told me, "We're going to have to step it up; are you ready?". It's been a long time since I have had a real Grand Prix season. The last time was in 2019, when I qualified for the final. COVID and injuries tainted the following seasons. After returning from the Japan Open, we plunged into preparing for this Skate America, and I did runthrough after runthrough. It was tough, but I was very motivated. It shows that hard work pays off, and the season is well underway.
Solène: Are you thinking about the Grand Prix Final?
Kevin: Of course, I would like to qualify for the final, but there are other primary goals. If I make it, I will be pleased. If not, I will be disappointed, but the season will continue. Our first goal was to create a beautiful free program. Then, we have goals for the second part of the season with the European and World Championships. With second place at Skate America, I know that qualifying for the final is possible, but it also depends on the other Grand Prix events, and I can't control what will happen at Skate Canada, in Angers, or at the NHK. I will go to Finland to give my best, and we'll see if that qualifies me for the final.
Solène: The French audience is disappointed not to see you at the Grand Prix de France in Angers. How was this decision made?
Kevin: I am also disappointed, but the decision was carefully thought out with my coaches and the FFSG [French Ice Skating Federation] to ensure that I am in the best possible conditions. When we received the dates and locations of the Grand Prix events, I looked at how to approach the season as good as possible. I saw that Angers was the third Grand Prix, right in the middle. That was not ideal; I prefer to have two full weeks between two Grand Prix events. Then, we know that the NHK Trophy is always prestigious and sought after by skaters but also very competitive, especially with three Japanese skaters on home ice. As for the Cup of China, it is pretty remote (in Chongqing), and I had no idea who my potential competitors would be. Then, there was some strategy: Adam and I both have a chance to qualify for the final. It would be almost historic if we both made it! (Note: Brian Joubert and Alban Préaubert managed to do it in 2006). To maximize our chances, it is mathematically best that we do not participate in the same Grand Prix events. I had also considered choosing Skate Canada and Espoo, but Jun-Hwan Cha had already chosen that before me. One of the rules is that the top 4 from the World Championships cannot face each other twice during the Grand Prix. Jun could choose before me because of his second place at the World Championships. Skate America has the disadvantage of being the first Grand Prix, you have to be ready early, but I live in Florida, a two-hour flight from Dallas, with no time difference. As for Espoo, I know the rink and have my bearings there. I won a medal at the last Grand Prix there. It's a comfortable choice for me.
Solène: What's the story behind your short program?
Kevin: It's not my story, but that of friends of mine. I don't want to say too much now; I might do so later in the season. It's a program that's very dear to me.
Solène : Let's talk about your free program to Boléro... This choice surprised many.
Kevin: My coaches had suggested skating to Boléro two years ago. I refused and even told them that the idea was boring. But when I was in France, I saw an advertisement for Maurice Béjart’s Boléro at the Paris Opera. I thought it might be a sign and went to see it. I cried from beginning to end. I immediately called my coaches and apologized for my initial reaction, telling them I wanted to skate to Boléro. I want people to feel what I felt at the Paris Opera when they see me skate. I worked with Brice Mousset, a French dancer based in New York, to create my own version of Boléro. We wanted to make it fierce. We think about new transitions, step sequences, and spin positions every year. When I announced that I would skate to Boléro, I received negative reactions, even from those close to me! They changed their minds after seeing the choreography. It's a challenge because many skaters have already skated to it, but I think we succeeded. I believe my component score, the highest at this Skate America, proves it.
Solène: The highest component score and a unanimous +5 on the choreo sequence, that’s very rare.
Kevin: Yes, it's highly pleasing. I didn't see it right away. I had quickly scanned the protocol to see my component score, the levels, and any technical errors, like the edge of the flip, but I hadn't taken the time to look at the GOEs. I learned about it later and was thrilled! The end of the program is a challenge. I face the judges. It's hard because I'm shy but can't look down. I have to show them that I have the power. I wait for the judge to look away before I can leave. At the end of the free program, the judge did not look away immediately, which was tough for me. You want to let go, especially after four minutes of effort, but you have to stay composed until the end.
NB: This is only the third time a male skater has received a unanimous +5 on the choreo sequence. The other two skaters were Nathan Chen in 2019 and Jason Brown in 2021.
Solène: There is a new transition to the triple Axel double Axel sequence. How did that idea come about?
Kevin: It's beautiful but a little scary. Thanks to John and Silvia... They always have a lot of ideas. If they could, they would have me juggle flaming spoons before a quad (laughs). It's hard on the thigh. I have to go down very low and come up high to launch the Axel and jump as high as possible. I heard the audience's reaction during the program; it was magical! This competition was challenging for transitions because the rink differs from the standard size. It's long but very narrow. I had difficulties in all my transitions because of the lack of space. Before the triple loop, I even had to modify the transition because of it.
Solène: Have you watched other famous Boléro? I'm thinking, for example, of Torvill and Dean or Carolina Kostner.
Kevin: I had seen Torvill and Dean’s many times; it's exceptional. But I haven't watched it recently. I only watched other Boléro after creating my choreography. If I had watched them before, there would have been a risk that I would be too inspired by them, even unconsciously. I also would have told myself that I could never measure up to Torvill and Dean. I also watched Kamila Valieva's; it's a beautiful Boléro. There have been many others, but I haven't watched them all, just a few out of curiosity. Boléro is like a good pair of jeans; everyone has had one in their career! Usually, I am against skating to warhorses, but seeing it at the Paris Opera changed everything.
Solène: During this competition, you were with John and Silvia. To what extent did having both of them by your side help you?
Kevin: Both bring a lot to me. We are a team. I work as much with one as with the other. Their help goes beyond technique. Before my programs, John told me: “It's like you have to jump between two mountains. There are only 50 centimeters between the two edges, but the void below is tens of kilometers deep. You will surely fall if you hesitate and don’t go all out. Jump, don’t hesitate, don’t be afraid.” It’s an image that is very important and reassuring to me. Silvia said, “We don't want to see someone clinging to their seat. We want to see something impressive, someone who takes risks. Get up and try things. When the lion is hungry and chasing his prey, he doesn’t wonder if he will be tired after four minutes. He's hungry, and he will run until he succeeds.” It had been a long time since I had competed with both of them at my side, and I had missed it a lot.
Solène: You also work with Françoise Bonnard in Grenoble.
Kevin: I often train with Françoise when I'm in France. She's part of my team; we send her videos weekly. I'll skate in Grenoble the week before the Grand Prix of Finland to adjust to the time difference. That will also be the case in early January. The European Championships are very early this year, and I don't have time to go back and forth between Europe and the United States between the holiday season and the European Championships. The ice conditions in Grenoble are exceptional; I feel good with Françoise. I also enjoy being with the skaters from Grenoble.
Solène: You seem to have had a great time during the gala tours this summer.
Kevin: We had an extraordinary team, whether it was in Japan or during the French team tour. Before, I had a hard time opening up; I was shy. My mindset has changed completely. When I go to a competition now, I meet my friends! I've gotten closer to the French team, to Jason (Brown), to Satoko (Miyahara), to Ilia (Malinin), to Kazuki (Tomono), to Madison (Chock) and Evan (Bates), and to many others! I also got to know Loena (Hendrickx). I didn't know her, and she scared me because I found her very impressive. We got to know each other. She is touching and inspiring.
Solène: You were invited to the Japan Open in early October; it must have been a great opportunity.
Kevin: It was an extraordinary chance. I had heard about it for years, but it was the first time I was invited. It's a very original competition. We had a lot of practice for the gala but only two practice sessions for the competition, and we only skated the free program. It was an incredible experience. The organization of shows and competitions in Japan is always impeccable.
Solène: At the Masters, we saw you behind the boards with the skaters from Grenoble, Ninon Dapoigny, and Mila Bertsch. Tell us about this experience.
Kevin: I've been working with Ninon for 2-3 years and Mila for a year and a half. They asked me to do their choreographies. I also work with Maia (Mazzara), but I was skating shortly after her at the Masters, so I couldn't accompany her. They're all great. I hope they won't suffer too many injuries and can continue progressing under good conditions. I'm glad they asked me to be their choreographer this year and that Françoise and the Grenoble club trust me. It also allows me to prepare for my state diploma. But being a coach is hard! I realized they're stressed, too (laughs). You have to be strong for the athletes. I have much to learn; I don't know if I want to be a coach immediately. I know myself; I know I will be too passionate, and that could be a lot. I plan to be a choreographer. I love exploring music and sharing emotions. I need to pass on what I know. Sharing what I know is essential; otherwise, it has no value. That's something I plan to continue doing with other skaters.
Solène: You're not already thinking about the end of your career, are you?
Kevin: I will continue until the 2026 Olympics for sure. After that, we'll see; it will depend on many things, including my physical condition. Nothing is decided.
Solène MATHIEU - Skate Info Glace